Second-half defensive adjustments, Marcus Paige lead North Carolina past No. 5 Duke

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Through one half of basketball North Carolina trailed No. 5 Duke 37-30, with the Blue Devils shooting 50% from the field and scoring 26 points in the paint. Between those defensive issues and the fact that leading scorer Marcus Paige failed to score a single point, it was clear what needed to occur in order for Roy Williams’ team to have any shot at knocking off Duke.

And sure enough North Carolina got the job done on both fronts, with their switching between man-to-man and two different zone defenses (1-3-1 and 3-2) neutralizing the Duke offense for much of the second half. That adjustment combined with Paige scoring all 13 of his points in the second half resulted in a 74-66 North Carolina victory, their fourth over a team ranked in the Top 10 (at the time of the game) this season.

After starting ACC play 1-4 the Tar Heels have now won eight straight games, and on this night their work on the defensive end was crucial. Duke went more than eight minutes between made field goals in the second half, and their 35.5% shooting in the second half featured too many jump shots and not enough opportunities in the paint.

Duke’s going to take a lot of jumpers, especially from beyond the arc as they score 35% of their points from three. But with the shots missing their mark Duke needed to get the ball inside more often, and North Carolina was able to prevent this from happening for much of the second half.

As for the offensive effort, Paige was key in the second half but he wasn’t alone in carrying the load offensively for North Carolina. Leslie McDonald, who after reaching double figures in five straight games had struggled in North Carolina’s last four contests, got off to a hot start and finished the game with 21 points. McDonald made nine of his 12 shots from the field, including all eight of his two-point attempts, snapping out of a slump in which he shot 8-for-31 in the four games prior to Thursday night.

It’s been well established that North Carolina isn’t going to be a team that racks up the points like prior Roy Williams-coached teams, with their having just one consistent perimeter scoring threat (Paige) and a host of other contributors looking to become more consistent options. But they’ve been good defensively during their current win streak, and with a move to their zone defense North Carolina was able to change the momentum of Thursday’s game and win their eighth straight.

VIDEO: Michigan State celebrates Tom Izzo’s 500th victory

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Thursday afternoon No. 3 Michigan State rolled past Boston College at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy, winning 99-68 in Fullerton, California. The win was special for multiple reasons, as not only did senior Denzel Valentine post his second triple-double of the season (29 points, 11 rebounds and ten assists) but it was also Tom Izzo’s 500th victory as Michigan State head coach.

Above is video of the celebration, which includes former Michigan State great and current Golden State Warrior Draymond Green giving Izzo a Rolex watch with the words “nice start” engraved on it. As you can tell Izzo got emotional over the entire ordeal, giving thanks to his players past and present for their efforts.

Video credit: Michigan State Athletics

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Fourteen ranked teams in action

Trevor Cooney
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE DAY: Syracuse vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (ESPN)

The championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis matches two teams who arrived in the Bahamas looking to make a statement nationally, and both did so Thursday. The Aggies, who along with Vanderbilt are Kentucky’s greatest competition in the SEC, have experience on the perimeter and some good front court options as well. How Danuel House, Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins navigate the Syracuse zone will be a key factor in this one. As for Syracuse, while seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney have led the way the contributions of Tyler Roberson and freshmen Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson should not be overlooked either.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 10 Gonzaga vs. No. 17 UConn, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Both teams lost thrillers in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals Thursday, with the Bulldogs falling by one to No. 25 Texas A&M and the Huskies losing by three to Syracuse. Now they look to avoid a second straight defeat in what should be an interesting matchup. Gonzaga’s front court size will be something UConn has to find an answer for, but it isn’t as if they don’t have options themselves. Shonn Miller’s matchup with Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer will be something to keep an eye on, as will Gonzaga’s guards taking on UConn’s talented and experienced group.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: No. 11 Arizona (vs. Providence), 11:30 p.m. (ESPN)

By now we all know Providence point guard Kris Dunn, as he’s one of the nation’s best players. But what makes the Friars a dangerous team now, and moving forward, is the emergence of other options. Ben Bentil’s averaging 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and Rodney Bullock’s been even better at 16.4 ppg and 8.2 rpg. While Dunn’s name may be on the marquee this isn’t some one-man band playing for head coach Ed Cooley. Add in the uncertain status of Arizona senior center Kaleb Tarczewski (left ankle) and the Wildcats’ shot selection in a “closer than it needed to be” win over Santa Clara, and this is a good opportunity for Providence to add a quality win to its early-season résumé.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Monmouth vs. Dayton, 9:30 p.m.

The Flyers aren’t a mid-major, but their opposition is the reason why this game is chosen here. King Rice’ Hawks have won three of their first four games to start the season, which includes wins over UCLA and No. 17 Notre Dame, and the strength of their schedule means that they won’t have any fear of Dayton. Both teams have talented perimeter rotations, with Justin Robinson leading the Hawks and Scoochie Smith doing so for the Flyers. The key will be how Dayton’s front court tandem of Kendall Pollard and Steve McElvene play; if they win their respective matchups Dayton will have the upper hand.


  • No. 1 Kentucky is back in action, this time taking on a USF team (5:00 p.m., ESPN) led by former John Calipari assistant Orlando Antigua. That fact may keep this contest between the high-powered Wildcats and rebuilding Bulls at a respectable margin.
  • No. 24 Cincinnati plays its second game away from home, as they take on Nebraska in Brooklyn. Farad Cobb’s played very well to start the season for the Bearcats, who are a bit underrated nationally. Not only will the Huskers have their hands full on the perimeter, but Cincinnati has both depth and experience in the post as well.
  • Illinois, having already lost three games this season, takes on a tough UAB squad at the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida (9:30 p.m., CBSSN). The Fighting Illini needed a Jalen Coleman-Lands three-pointer to beat Chicago State earlier this week, and the Blazers are an experienced group that reached the NCAA tournament last season.
  • West Virginia and San Diego State meet in the title game of the Continental Las Vegas Invitational (10:30 p.m., FS1) in a fun matchup of defensive-minded teams. “Press Virginia” will look to turn over the Aztecs in the open floor, and SDSU (which can extend its defense when needed) has one of the stingiest half-court defenses in the country.
  • No. 23 Xavier and USC meet in the other AdvoCare Invitational semifinal (2:30 p.m., ESPNU), with the Trojans looking to build on an early-season start that has surprised some people. But while Bennie Boatwright can be a matchup issue offensively as the four, how he competes with the likes of Xavier’s Jalen Reynolds will have a major impact on this game.
  • Boise State will look to do what no one’s been able to do thus far: keep Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine in check (5:30 p.m., ESPN2). The senior guard posted his second triple-double of the season, and he’s got the undefeated and third-ranked Spartans rolling right now. But keep an eye on Boise State’s James Webb III. While he was quiet in their win over UC Irvine, he went for 27 and nine in a loss at No. 11 Arizona last week.


  • Virginia Tech vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 7:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
  • Georgia Tech vs. No. 8 Villanova, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Richmond vs. No. 14 California, 8:00 p.m. (FS1)
  • Northeastern at No. 15 Miami, 4:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Iowa, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Alabama vs. No. 20 Wichita State, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN3)


  • Arkansas vs. Stanford, 12:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • UC Irvine vs. Boston College, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Southern Illinois vs. UTEP, 3:30 p.m.
  • FGCU at Florida, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Winthrop at NC State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Texas vs. Michigan, 7:00 p.m. (AXS)
  • Ohio State vs. Memphis, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Long Beach State at Oklahoma State, 8:30 p.m.
  • George Washington vs. Tennessee, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN3)